Although Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the country, it contains pockets of tremendous poverty. Parents struggle to access the resources they need to give their children quality experiences, and children experience toxic stress that can negatively alter their brain development and physical health. Many programs and policies that aim to combat poverty do so by targeting either children or adults, but policymakers and researchers are increasingly realizing that addressing the needs of vulnerable children and their parents at the same time simply makes more sense. A child who is enrolled at a top-quality preschool but whose living situation is precarious (in 2012-13, 5,508 children experienced homelessness in Connecticut, and 24% of households paid more than 50% of income for rent) may not reap the full benefits of a high quality early education. Likewise, a parent graduating from a job training program may not be able to find steady employment if s/he cannot find reliable child care for his/her young daughter.
All Our Kin’s mission is two-generational at its core (and, in some cases, three-generational). High quality child care allows children to have healthy, educational experiences, and it lets parents enter the workforce without worrying about their children’s safety. In addition, our programs help family child care providers – many of whom are parents themselves – build successful businesses and transition out of poverty themselves. We are thrilled that we were selected as a “Promising Two-Generation Program” by Ascend at the Aspen Institute earlier this year, and that two-generation approaches are finally beginning to gain political traction.
In October of this year, Aspen Ascend published “Top Ten for 2Gen: Policies and Principles to Advance Two-Generation Efforts.” The authors of the report begin by stating, “The War on Poverty began 50 years – two generations – ago, and while it has achieved much, poverty is still being passed down from generation to generation… American parents are painfully aware that their children’s dreams and economic future are at risk unless all sectors of society can work together to offer a new path forward.” Ascend’s 10 policies to promote two-generation strategies (see image) include investing in Head Start and Early Head Start and maximizing opportunities for whole-family diagnosis and treatment for mental health.
The list also includes reforming the Child Care Development Block Grant, a crucial piece of legislation which has been reauthorized since the list was published. As President Obama remarked upon signing the bill into law, “This law is going to do several important things. It’s going to improve the quality of child care by requiring more training for caregivers and more enrichment for children. It’s going to improve child safety by instituting background checks for staff and better inspection of facilities. It’s going to give working parents a little more peace of mind — if you receive subsidies to pay for your child care, you know that if you get a raise on your job or you find a job, your kids aren’t automatically losing their care because your status has changed midstream.” (Click here to see the National Women’s Law Center’s comparison chart of the old CCDBG law to the new reauthorization.)
Connecticut’s own Two Generational Policy Workgroup organized a forum in Hartford on November 12 to bring together key stakeholders and imagine how two generation programs and policies could work in our state. The forum, which was called “Building Opportunity, Two Generations at a Time” and presented in partnership with the Connecticut Commission on Children and the Connecticut Association for Human Services, emphasized the importance of viewing the family as a unit. As Elaine Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Connecticut Commission on Children, said, “when we have fragmented policies, we cut families apart.”
Representative Toni Walker (D-93), Representative Noreen Kokoruda (R-101) and Senator Beth Bye (D-5) all participated in the forum as well. As Senator Bye noted, “There are so many things that impact young children. If parents don’t have a job, or if parents are too stressed out because of unpredictable schedules where employees have no power or knowledge of their schedule beforehand, then the child suffers. You have to look at it from a multi-generational framework.”
Much of the conversation focused around ways to connect vulnerable individuals to many different services. Speakers complained about how many programs “operate in silos” – if a parent approaches an agency asking for services (for example, SNAP benefits), the agency usually does not partner with other programs to deliver comprehensive services to the whole family. “We’ve got to talk to each other!” said Representative Walker. “Otherwise, all we do is get in each other’s ways. This is something that is so logical.” “Isolation isn’t working,” Representative Kokoruda echoed. “Money is tight right now, but that means we have to be looking for ways to make the biggest impact with our dollars. Two gen is about working smarter.”
The forum also included stories from parents who have benefited from programs that take two generational approaches. A young man shared his experiences as a teen father living in poverty. A parent and social worker spoke about how the federally funded program Even Start helped her to support her children’s early education and to launch her own career. A woman who immigrated from Ecuador with her father 14 years ago told listeners about how she struggled to be a mother, a wife, a student, and an employee at the same time. She said that her dream now is “to offer my hand to other people who need guidance and encouragement.”
As research on the effectiveness of looking at the whole family continues to accumulate, All Our Kin looks forward to seeing more support for two generation programs and policies. Our work over the years has shown us that poverty is fundamentally intergenerational. It will take innovative, bold policies to adequately address poverty’s devastating effects.